Friday, January 13, 2012

Paper Napkin Chicken Scratch

Errant observations and imprecise opinions hastily scribbled over the course of three weeks bouncing between several countries...

It takes most directors and screenwriters three-ish films to arrive at either their apogee or the plateau along which they'll comfortably cruise for the rest of their careers. Taxi Driver was Scorsese's fourth film and Paul Schrader's second script. Blue Velvet was David Lynch's fourth effort as writer/director. By the release of The Royal Tenenbaums, you knew a Wes Anderson film would be wealthy eccentrics shot in diorama-style mise-en-scène over an old Kinks song. It didn't even take until Eternal Sunshine to realize that all of Charlie Kaufman's films are basically Annie Hall if Woody Allen had grown up reading French post-structuralists instead of German psychoanalysts.

J.J. Abrams' films follow a reliable formula: one part Spielberg, one part lens flare, and one part daddy issues. (Some would argue, therefore, the proper formulation is two parts Spielberg to one part lens flare.)

Drive is a terrible goddamned movie - the kind of faux-arthouse poppycock that portends to work that style-into-substance alchemy when it's merely a spitwad of smug artifice transubstantiating up its own ass. The pacing would put Jim Jarmusch to sleep, there's as much teal-and-orange colour correction as a Michael Bay movie, and the characters are so stock they're listed on the NASDAQ. (It takes all of two lines before Albert Brooks' jowly Italian mobster says "Wuzzamattawichoo?") Man of the Moment Ryan Gosling spends about 15 seconds of the film acting, and the other hour-forty-minutes-and-twenty-five-seconds playing a mannequin with a fake Brooklyn accent whose "principled" refusal to carry a gun is kind of undercut by the drownings, stabbings, and beatings he delivers unflinchingly throughout the film.

My wife and I are utterly baffled by Ryan Gosling's apparently universal appeal. His much-heralded sexiness eludes us ("He just looks like he's from rural Ontario!" says my wife) and we've yet to see any acting chops above the standard of, say, a guest appearance in an HBO series. Also, his phony Noo Yawk accent just pisses me off. I addressed this specific complaint in two separate conversations with two friends, each a young, cosmopolitan French woman. Both immediately cited Gosling's tenure on the Mickey Mouse Club as the possible source of his aberrant accent. Ah, but that was shot in Florida! If Gosling had effortlessly sponged up the local dialect, he'd sound more like Hank Hill or (if he was really overachieving) Tony Montana. But no, he sounds like a truck driver on the BQE, so how can his accent be anything but fake? To this, both of my friends - separated by three days and 380 miles, totally unaware of each other's reaction - quietly shrugged and said, "Well, he might just be quite stupid."

Do they think Gosling is an idiot because he's a blond pretty-boy Disney alum? Because he's an actor? Or, indeed, because he sounds like a grease-monkey from Gowanus? Whatever the reason, let it be known: sophisticated, worldly French women think Ryan Gosling is a dumb-ass!

Overinflated New Yorker also happens to be Jon Stewart's go-to accent for impersonating morons, con artists, and garden-variety assholes. A canny choice on his part: tough & streetwise though it may be, the New York accent doesn't particularly appeal to many people outside of New York. Still, it isn't as ugly as the native Baltimorean accent, which sounds like a hillbilly crack-baby. Come to think of it, almost every accent is saddled with negative stereotypes. Received Pronunciation is the accent of the learned, the elite, but also the cosmically evil. In the UK, Brummies are idiots and Scousers are thieves. In the States, southerners are gregarious racists, Bostonians are either moneyed pricks or thuggish drunks, and mid-westerners (and by extension Canadians) are benevolent folks so simple they border on Autistic.

As much as I've love to tour its splendid whiskey distilleries, I don't think I'll ever get back to Scotland. My wife says the accent - despite being intermittently incomprehensible - poses a very real threat to our marriage.

Lots of people have a pet accent, one they find ineffably sexy & sensual. Not me: I might find a woman of another mother tongue alluring, but that has more to do with the woman than how she blends her vowels. At least that's what I thought until I saw Marion Cotillard in Les Petits Mouchoirs, swearing a blue streak like she was Linda Blair in waterwings. I can't begin to explain why, but woo lawd was that hot. Of course, I find French women generally fascinating: their faces are like fountain-pen caricatures and their hair is like choreography. The Golden Ratio - thought to be integral to our perception of beauty - seems to elude French features more often than not, which has the unfortunate effect of making many French men look like big-nosed, unshaven pimps. But it also makes the women so much more interesting to look at than their geometrically-regular, Teutonic neighbours.

Of course, it's inaccurate & unfair to suggest that Germans meet some mathematical ideal of physical perfection; that's only half of 'em. The other half look like the mustard algae staining the bottom of the gene pool.

There was a billboard in the Munich train station for a large commercial bank - I think it was Sparkasse - that posed the question, "Which bank is doing what's right for Germany?" in a friendly, white, sans-serif font. Next to the text was the image of a platinum-blonde, blue-eyed young girl, hands planted firmly on hips, eyes fixed sportively on the middle distance. Now then... I understand that as EU leaders (especially German chancellor Angela Merkel) attempt to balance the wildly discrepant economic health of its constituent countries, mutual mistrust and resurgent nationalism is rampant across the continent. But I wouldn't have guessed that a commercial bank in King-of-the-Hill Deutschland would appeal so baldly to some latent Aryan arrogance.

However, if you're intent on discussing Nazi architecture, then only do it after a minimum two mugs of mulled wine so your vocal chords are warmed up and your inhibitions have been properly shellacked. After all, buildings so bellicose & humourless that they look like clenched fists deserve to be discussed only in equally belligerent terms.


David K Wayne said...

Drive was shit, wasn't it? So lamely derivative - Walter Hill's the Driver meets Michael Mann's set design plus David Lynch's violent set pieces = US 'arthouse'! Sad indictment of Hollywood's sorry state when the 'cineastes' go gaga over this junk.

Or more succinctly, Shane on wheels. Itself featuring another mannequin of inexplicable popularity - Alan Ladd. As for Albert Brooks - he's been playing exactly the same part for 40 years. Acclaim for his 'amazing performance' seems based on him doing it balder and fatter this time.

It also suggested that being creepy with kids, and silently staring into space like a zombie, was a great way to get women to fall madly in love with you. Better give that a try sometime...

Jeffrey said...

It takes most directors and screenwriters three-ish films to arrive at either their apogee or the plateau along which they'll comfortably cruise for the rest of their careers. . . . Blue Velvet was David Lynch's fourth effort as writer/director.

I think a very good argument could be made that Lynch hasn't done anything nearly as good since save for Twin Peaks and that really wasn't his baby after the first episode.

Seb said...

Kasper - Yeah, the utter vapidity of the thing was galling. I always thought Americans liked their arthouse fare at some Baz Luhrmann level of screaming melodrama - which obviously ain't any better, but I was surprised. To think some of the people who recommended Drive to me were the same who found Contagion "boring."

And it's bloody depressing how well the "looking bored means I'm obliquely fascinating" trick actually works to pick up women. Not women you'd want to spend any great time with, mind you, but I see that shit all the time.

Jeffrey - Agreed, the pilot & Episode 15 of Twin Peaks are some of Lynch's finest work ever, but I will argue to the death that Lost Highway is of the same caliber. Seeing that movie in a proper theatre was one of the most visceral viewing experiences I've ever had.

Jeffrey said...

I have not seen "Lost Highway" so I should have qualified my statement.

flspectro said...

'bout the orange soup that's being served in current movie theaters:

Probably they are trying the same trick (saturated colors) that was succesfull for color film fabricants of 1960's

They are getting it wrong obviously. The color contrast is hard to read and the excessive detail in the background it's just ridiculous. I thought I was alone on this one. LOL